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First off, let's acknowledge that Michael Jordan is 50 and can still dunk. Amazing. However, it might be slightly more impressive if it weren't for the fact that he's doing against, what appear to be, a 10-year-old child.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 12.
• We're a little more than two weeks out from real, live college football. To tide you over, here are the cheerleaders of the Coaches Top 25.
• Jason Dufner indulged in a little celebratory grab-ass following his PGA Championship win. It's okay; the hiney in question belonged to his lovely wife Amanda.
• Michael Jordan can still dunk at age 50. Impressive, until you remember that he's still 6-6. Speaking of His Airness, here are 20 old athletes who could still kick your tail.
• Soccer fans apparently have even worse taste in tattoos than football fans. Speaking of poorly thought out tats, here are seven places men should never get ink. My apologies if you already have broken any of these rules.
• Jerry Lewis once made a movie about a clown who worked in a concentration camp. Not surprisingly, the movie was never released.
• View a piece of history: Miguel Cabrera became the first player to homer off the great Mariano Rivera in two consecutive at-bats.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Ole Miss is expecting big things from freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
And the nation’s No. 1 recruit is certainly showcasing his talents in fall practice in this short video from Jackson Clarion-Ledger writer Hugh Kellenberger:
The Cardinals enter their last season in the American Athletic Conference as a heavy favorite to win the league title.
And Louisville will try to make a run at the national title with a slightly updated look for 2013:
Named after two transcendent freshmen — Minnesota’s Darrell Thompson and Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El — the Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman of the Year award has been given to some seriously talented first-year athletes of late.
Both Wisconsin’s Chris Borland and James White took home back-to-back such awards in 2009-10 surrounded by Buckeye quarterbacks. Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor won the award in 2008 en route to a Big Ten championship and Braxton Miller took home the Thompson-Randle El Trophy two years ago — and is looking for his first (official) Big Ten title this year. Penn State’s Deion Barnes is the reigning Freshman of the Year.
The 2013 season will be no different as a host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
There is no doubt he is the most gifted quarterback on the Penn State campus, but Hackenberg needs to prove he can handle a big-time NCAA program before he takes the reins. The delicate balance between gaining experience and ruining confidence must always be considered with true freshman quarterbacks. Hackenberg looks like a huge star in the making and he is in good hands under Bill O’Brien, but fans must expect plenty of growing pains in 2013.
Dontre Wilson, AP, Ohio State
The Percy Harvin comparisons have run rampant during camp, but having filmed this kid last year, I can tell you the comparisons are warranted. Yes, he is 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds and will wear No. 1 in an Urban Meyer offense. But he also can score from anywhere on the field, is adept at catching the ball as well as running it and can be used in the return game. Yup, sounds like Harvin alright. Look for Meyer to get Wilson the ball early and often.
Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
Green’s role in the Brady Hoke pro-style offense is yet to be determined. He could easily play over 230 pounds and that would make him the go-to short-yardage and goal-line back to start. However, he wants to be much more than a complementary piece, and knowing the injury history of the Wolverines backfield, he should be ready to shoulder the load at any point. Picking up the blitz will be the key for Green’s playing time, however.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Northwestern
As one of the highest rated recruits to ever sign with Northwestern, Odenigbo is surrounded by a lot of hype. After a redshirt season brought on by a season-ending shoulder injury, fans in Evanston are ready to see what the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder can do fully healthy. He will bring elite athleticism to an outside pass rush that ranked 50th in the nation a year ago in sacks per game.
Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden, OL, Michigan
Kalis was the more high profile recruit and is extremely gifted in his own right, but Taylor Lewan says Braden is “the most physically gifted individual I’ve ever seen.” Kalis and Braden are slotted in as the starting guard tandem and this influx of talent along the line could push Michigan over the top as the Legends Division front-runner.
Dan Voltz, C, Wisconsin
A big-time signing in the 2012 class, Voltz nearly got into the starting lineup a year ago before Bret Bielema decided to redshirt him. The talented guard-turned-pivot is now working under his third offensive line coach in 12 months and is looking to replace a star in Travis Frederick. Gary Andersen will run the ball at Wisconsin and Voltz will be an integral piece for the Badgers O-line.
Riley Bullough, et al, RB, Michigan State
There are some more experienced options on the roster (e.g., Nick Hill) but it could be a freshman committee running the ball in East Lansing this year. Riley Bullough is currently the No. 1 with Gerald Holmes and Delton Williams making a strong push for time. Bullough is 230 pounds, Holmes is 215 and Williams checks in at 220. All three are in their first season on the field and all three bring a physical style that Mark Dantonio craves from his running game.
Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State
There might not be a team in the nation with better starting safeties than Ohio State. And that should explain just how gifted the freshman safety could be. Bell will be used in nickel back situations and will get tons of time in mop-up duty. He flies all over the field and will be the next great Buckeyes safety.
Jared Afalava, LB, Nebraska
The redshirt from Utah is fighting his way into the starting lineup this fall.
Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin
Highly-touted in-state prospect who should continue the recent run of excellent linebackers in Madison.
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Florida native will press for time behind already stacked D-Line.
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Talented basketball star who is only scratching the surface of his big-time pass-rushing upside.
Demetrious Cox, S, Michigan State
Has the inside track on the nickel back position whenever MSU goes to five defensive backs.
Robert Gregory, RB, Purdue
Redshirt Chicago native should be a nice complementary piece to Akeem Hunt in RB-friendly system.
Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State
Bill O'Brien says this big nose guard has "a great future" in Happy Valley. Look for him to work his way onto the field.
Darius Latham and David Kenney, DL, Indiana
A deep DL class is headlined by these two Indianapolis prospects at tackle and end respectively. Both will play.
Eugene Lewis, WR, Penn State
Scout team star turned some heads last year in practice and will be looked to for support on the outside.
Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Explosive do-everything talent will be used in a lot of ways on offense as a freshman.
Dymonte Thomas, DB, Michigan
Extremely gifted athlete who could play a variety of positions. Could see time as a nickel back.
Nyeem Wartman, LB, Penn State
Mike Hull and Glenn Carson lead the way allowing for Wartman to grow on the job as a potential starter.
Vontrell Williams, DT, Illinois
He is expected to start for a defense that needs big-time help up the middle against the run.
Chris Wormley, DE, Michigan
Massive (6-5, 290) end prospect could press for starting time as a redshirt freshman.
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Adam Breneman, TE, Penn State
Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Berkley Edwards, RB, Minnesota
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Maurice Fleming, CB, Iowa
Ralphael Green, DT, Indiana
Jordan Heiderman, DT, Indiana
Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa
Courtney Love, LB, Nebraska
Greg McMullen, DE, Nebraska
Mike Mitchell, LB, Ohio State
Shane Morris, QB, Michigan
Avery Moss, DE, Nebraska
Damion Terry, QB, Michigan State
Michael Geiger, K, Michigan State
Sam Foltz, P, Nebraska
It’s a long season, but three or four games could change the whole thing.
The Big 12 looks to be crowded at the top: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Baylor all have legitimate reasons to believe they can win the league title.
In the first look at critical stretches for each major conference, we examined the most important set of games for each team in the league.
For the teams at the top, it means the stretches when they’ll face the other contenders. For the teams at the bottom, it’s where they’re looking for signs of progress.
*presented in Athlon’s projected order of finish.
Nov. 16 at Texas
Nov. 23 Baylor
Dec. 7 Oklahoma
The Cowboys have a beneficial stretch against the bottom three Big 12 teams (at Iowa State, at Texas Tech, Kansas) before the stretch that likely determines the Big 12 title. The Cowboys lost all three of these matchups last season and now faces all three in the final games of the season. The Cowboys’ defense was gashed in all three games, including giving up 600 yards and six yards per play against the Bears and Sooners. Oklahoma State was in shootouts against OU and Baylor, but Clint Chelf completed only a combined 49-of-88 passes with three interceptions. On the other side, Texas returning quarterback David Ash had one of his best games of the season against Oklahoma State.
Related: Oklahoma State game-by-game picks
Sept. 28 at Notre Dame
Oct. 5 TCU
Oct. 12 Texas (Dallas)
A critical stretch for Blake Bell and the Oklahoma offense. The Sooners’ offensive line is expected to be a strength, but facing Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix will be a key barometer for the Sooners after OU rushed for only 15 yards on 24 carries against the Irish last season. TCU has had attrition on its defense, but the Horned Frogs still allowed allowed a Big 12-low 4.9 yards per play. Texas is the great mystery. With linebacker Jordan Hicks back, the Longhorns can’t be as bad as the group that gave up 677 yards and 63 points to OU last season, can they?
Related: Oklahoma game-by-game picks
Sept. 7 at BYU
Sept. 14 Ole Miss
Sept. 21 Kansas State
Oct. 3 at Iowa State
Oct. 12 Oklahoma (Dallas)
The conventional wisdom may be that the season — and perhaps Mack Brown’s tenure — hangs on Kansas State and Oklahoma. Those are critical games with Kansas State winning five in a row over the Longhorns and Oklahoma winning the last two meetings by a combined score of 118-38. But things will be much more difficult: Going to BYU against the No. 2 run defense from 2012 and then facing an Ole Miss no-huddle spread in back-to-back weeks aren’t guaranteed wins.
Oct. 5 at Oklahoma
Oct. 12 Kansas
Oct. 19 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 26 Texas
TCU can thank the schedule-makers for that breather against Kansas in between Oklahoma road trips. That would be a trap game situation, if KU is good enough to pull of a trap game win. Not only does TCU face Athlon’s top three Big 12 teams in a span of four weeks, two of those games are on the road. Casey Pachall could end up the top quarterback in the Big 12, but his only games in the league were against Kansas in 2012 (a 20-6 win) and against Baylor in 2011 (a 50-48 loss in the opener).
Sept. 21 at Texas
Oct. 5 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 12 Baylor
Facing Texas and Oklahoma State on the road isn’t a great situation for a new starting quarterback, but all the pressure will be on the home team as Texas tries to get over its Bill Snyder problem and Oklahoma State goes for a conference title.
Nov. 7 Oklahoma
Nov. 16 Texas Tech (Arlington)
Nov. 23 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 30 at TCU
Dec. 7 Texas
With an untested quarterback in Bryce Petty, Baylor has to be happy with its backloaded schedule. This defining stretch begins with a Thursday game against Oklahoma that’s sure to have Waco at a fever pitch. The Bears have improved depth, especially on defense. That will be tested.
Oct. 5 at Kansas
Oct. 12 Iowa State
Oct. 19 at West Virginia
No one is projecting vintage Texas Tech despite the return of Kliff Kingsbury. Take care of business against the lower tier of the Big 12 early, and the Red Raiders should feel pretty good.
Related: Texas Tech game-by-game picks
Sept. 21 Maryland (Baltimore)
Sept. 28 Oklahoma State
Oct. 5 at Baylor
Oct. 19 Texas Tech
West Virginia has won seven in a row over Maryland, so a matchup against an improved Terrapins team could be an early referendum on the season. The Mountaineers’ home dates against Dana Holgorsen's former employers Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will at least be interesting television.
Sept. 14 Iowa
Sept. 26 at Tulsa
Oct. 3 Texas
Oct. 12 at Texas Tech
A limited cast of playmakers on offense and four returning starters on defense will be major concerns for the Cyclones. Facing an in-state rival and holding the line against the Conference USA favorite Tulsa will be key barometer games on Iowa State’s bowl hopes.
Sept. 7 South Dakota
Sept. 15 at Rice
Sept. 21 Louisiana Tech
If the Jayhawks are going to show any improvement, they’ll need to end the 11-game losing streak. KU opens with an FCS team, a Rice team that beat the Jayhawks 25-24 in Lawrence and a Louisiana Tech team with one returning starter on offense. Two wins would be nice.
With a wide-open Big 12 title race ahead, don’t count out Texas Tech from making some noise in 2013.
As evidenced by his stints at Houston and Texas A&M, new coach Kliff Kingsbury is one of the nation’s top minds on offense. And the former Texas Tech quarterback has plenty to build around in 2013, as running back Kenny Williams returns after rushing for 824 yards last year, while receiver Eric Ward is a first-team All-Big 12 selection by Athlon Sports.
The Red Raiders will be on their fifth defensive coordinator in five years and are switching to a 3-4 scheme this season. The front seven took a hit after spring practice, as Delvon Simmons decided to transfer to USC. Although Simmons will be missed, Texas Tech’s line will be in good hands with seniors Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush.
Texas Tech’s early schedule sets up favorably for a 7-0 start, but the slate is considerably tougher late in the year.
What will Texas Tech's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Texas Tech's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|Game||Steven Lassan||Chris Level||Mark Ross|
|8/30 at SMU|
|9/7 Stephen F. Austin|
|9/21 Texas State|
|10/5 at Kansas|
|10/12 Iowa State|
|10/19 at West Virginia|
|10/26 at Oklahoma|
|11/2 Oklahoma State|
|11/9 Kansas State|
|11/28 at Texas|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Texas Tech should be one of college football’s most intriguing teams to watch in 2013. New coach Kliff Kingsbury is a great fit in Lubbock, and the Red Raiders are going to score plenty of points. And in a year when the Big 12 is wide open, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Texas Tech push for a top-five finish in the conference standings, provided the team can address a few personnel issues. The offensive line returns only two starters, the secondary has some holes to fill at cornerback, and there’s some uncertainty under center. Whether it’s Michael Brewer or Davis Webb at quarterback, Texas Tech’s offense should be one of the best in the conference, especially with receiver Eric Ward and underrated running back Kenny Williams leading the way. Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt was a good hire for Kingsbury, but he will have his work cut out for him in 2013. Expect the Red Raiders to pull an upset or two – Oklahoma State? – but 7-5 seems like the most likely regular season outcome.
Chris Level, (@ChrisLevel), RedRaiderSports.com
The Kliff Kingsbury era will provide some freshness to a program that fizzled over the past few seasons. The offense was potent last season, but the explosiveness should be back under the tutelage of Kingsbury. Health will play a big factor in how far this team can go, and they’ll need key players like Jace Amaro, Eric Ward, Le’Raven Clark, Jakeem Grant, and DeAndre Washington in good form to become unstoppable. The defense should come away with more turnovers under a more aggressive havoc wreaking scheme, which will pay dividends throughout the season. Aside from road trips to Norman and Austin, the schedule breaks nicely, and the Red Raiders will have some home field advantage working in their favor in fringe games against TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Kingsbury and his staff will keep the competitive juices flowing on a weekly basis, and fans will see a fearless attitude from their football team. That could be the difference in an extra win or two this season. I may be on the optimistic side of the consensus predictions, but if a few things swing Tech’s way, nine or more wins could be a reality.
Kliff Kingsbury comes back to Lubbock to take over at his alma mater. It's a great story and I'm sure the former Red Raider star will have his share of success, but it also will take some time for Kingsbury to mold this into his program, especially considering the change in offensive and defensive systems compared to what Tommy Tuberville ran last season. Quarterback play will be key to Texas Tech's success, as there are weapons to work with. The defense has several players in new positions and a secondary that will be doing a lot of on-the-job training. That said, there are opportunities for wins, especially early in the season, and the optimist in me says that Texas Tech will collect at least one signature home win. If said victory also coincides with the clinching or securing of a bowl berth, than I think Red Raider nation will happily signal thumbs up, rather "Guns Up," on Kingsbury's first season back on the South Plains.
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Oklahoma Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Oklahoma State Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
West Virginia Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Kliff Kingsbury Returns Home to Texas Tech
Big 12's Top Heisman Contenders for 2013
Athlon keeps fantasy GMs up to date with a complete look at MLB's bullpen situations.
|Arizona||Brad Zeigler||J.J. Putz||Joe Thatcher, Heath Bell|
|Atlanta||Craig Kimbrel||Jordan Walden||Scott Downs, Luis Ayala, Anthony Varvaro, Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters (DL)|
|Baltimore||Jim Johnson||Francisco Rodriguez||Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, Troy Patton|
|Boston||Koji Uehara||Junichi Tazawa||Matt Thornton, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Joel Hanrahan (DL)|
|Chicago (NL)||Kevin Gregg||James Russell||Blake Parker, Pedro Strop, Kyuji Fujikawa (DL)|
|Chicago (AL)||Addison Reed||Nate Jones||Matt Lindstrom, Jesse Crain (DL)|
|Cincinnati||Aroldis Chapman||Sam LeCure||J.J. Hoover, Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall (DL)|
|Cleveland||Chris Perez||Joe Smith||Cody Allen, Rich Hill|
|Colorado||Rex Brothers||Matt Belisle||Wilton Lopez, Rafael Betancourt (DL)|
|Detroit||Joaquin Benoit||Jose Veras||Drew Smyly, Al Albuquerque, Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel (DL)|
|Houston||Jose Cisnero*||Josh Fields*||Wesley Wright, Hector Ambriz|
|Kansas City||Greg Holland||Aaron Crow||Tim Collins, Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera|
|LA Angles||Ernesto Frieri||Dane De La Rosa||Kevin Jepsen, Michael Kohn Ryan Madson (DL)|
|LA Dodgers||Kenley Jansen||Brandon League||Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez, Carlos Marmol|
|Miami||Steve Cishek||Chad Qualls||Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos|
|Milwaukee||Jim Henderson||John Axford||Mike Gonzalez, Brandon Kinzler|
|Minnesota||Glen Perkins||Jared Burton||Casey Fien, Josh Roenicke|
|New York (NL)||LaTroy Hawkins*||David Aardsma*||Scott Rice*, Josh Edgin, Bobby Parnell, Frank Francisco (DL)|
|New York (AL)||Mariano Rivera||David Robertson||Boone Logan, Preston Claiborne, Joba Chamberlain|
|Oakland||Grant Balfour||Ryan Cook||Sean Doolittle|
|Philadelphia||Jonathan Papelbon||Justin De Fratus||Justin De Fratus, Jacob Diekman, Mike Adams (DL)|
|Pittsburgh||Mark Melancon||Justin Wilson||Tony Watson, Bryan Morris, Jason Grilli (DL)|
|St. Louis||Edward Mujica||Trevor Rosenthal||Seth Maness, Jason Motte (DL)|
|San Diego||Huston Street||Luke Gregerson||Dale Thayer|
|San Francisco||Sergio Romo||Santiago Casilla||Javier Lopez, Jose Mijares|
|Seattle||Danny Farquhar||Oliver Perez||Charlie Furbush, Carter Capps, Yoervis Medina, Stephen Pryor (DL)|
|Tampa Bay||Fernando Rodney||Joel Peralta||Jake McGee, Alex Torres|
|Texas||Joe Nathan||Jason Frasor||Tanner Scheppers, Neal Cotts, Robbie Ross, Joakim Soria|
|Toronto||Casey Janssen||Steve Delabar||Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Darren Oliver, Sergio Santos (DL)|
|Washington||Rafael Soriano||Tyler Clippard||Craig Stammen, Ian Krol|
*Houston and the New York Mets are employing a closer-by-committee approach right now.
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013
Fantasy Baseball 2013: Which Injured Players are Worth Drafting?
The Athlon Sports High School Football Preseason Top 25, just in time for the Friday night lights across the country. As usual, Florida, Texas and California are well-represented, but there's plenty of talent from coast-to-coast and more teams playing national schedules than ever before.
1. Miami Central (Fla.) Rockets
Miami Central is Athlon Sports’ preseason No. 1 high school football team in the country primarily for two reasons — Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby.
The Rockets’ rising seniors comprise a backfield that many major college programs would be proud to have. And who knows? Maybe Cook (who originally committed to Clemson before changing his allegiance to Florida) and Yearby (originally a Florida State commit who has since flipped to Miami) will remain teammates at the next level.
“That’s something we always talk about,” Cook told the Orlando Sentinel. “We’re working together every day, side-by-side, so we talk about that every day.”
But first, the dynamic duo will look to maintain the success they enjoyed last season: Cook rushed for 1,451 yards and scored 22 total TDs while Yearby posted a nearly identical 1,448 rush yards and 21 total TDs en route to earning a Class 6A state championship for Willis McGahee’s alma mater.
Miami Central returns all five offensive linemen, including 6'5", 330-pound senior Trevor Darling. But all eyes will be on Cook, the No. 1 tailback, and Yearby, who doubles as the quarterback in the Rockets’ run-based option offense that averaged 39 points per game during a 12–2 season. Central’s only losses were to Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee (ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time) and Loganville (Ga.) Grayson.
This season, Miami Central plays a schedule that could produce a campaign worthy of a mythical national title. The Rockets face local South Florida powers in reigning Class 4A champions Miami Booker T. Washington and defending Class 3A winners Fort Lauderdale University School, and they take a road trip to battle New Jersey juggernaut Don Bosco Prep.
And if Cook and Yearby have it their way, the Rockets’ explosive playmakers will go out with a bang.
2. Allen (Texas) Eagles
Quarterback Kyler Murray topped 2,000 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards while accounting for 42 total TDs for last year’s Class 5A Division I state champions.
3. Karr (La.) Cougars
New coach Nathaniel Jones inherits the top team in New Orleans, led by Devante “Speedy” Noil, who accounted for 44 TDs for last year’s Class 4A state champs.
4. Booker T. Washington (Fla.) Tornadoes
Coach Tim “Ice” Harris’ son, Treon, quarterbacks a loaded team that will play a national schedule that includes road trips to Norcross (Ga.) and Bishop Gorman (Nev.).
5. Katy (Texas) Tigers
The lone unbeaten team in Class 5A a year ago, Katy has some holes to fill, but that’s nothing new for one of the state’s most tradition-rich programs.
6. John Curtis (La.) Patriots
Abby Touzet quarterbacked the Patriots to a Class 2A state title in 2011 as a freshman and served as the backup last fall. He’s back to run the show in ’13.
7. De La Salle (Calif.) Spartans
Justin Alumbaugh takes over for legendary coach Bob Ladouceur, who steps down after posting a 399–25–3 record.
8. Hamilton (Ariz.) Huskies
Sam Sasso will be the eighth senior starting quarterback in coach Steve Belles’ eight years of guiding the Huskies.
9. Junipero Serra (Calif.) Cavaliers
The reigning Division II champions return a core group led by two-way gamebreaker Adoree’ Jackson.
10. St. John Bosco (Calif.) Braves
Defense will be the calling card for the Braves, who return run-stuffers Damien Mama, Malik Dorton, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Chandler Leniu.
11. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) Raiders
Michael Irvin's alma mater has been good since the Playmaker was in high school. A trip to John Curtis (La.) is one of the games of the year.
12. Norcross (Ga.) Blue Devils
Defensive end Lorenzo Carter is one of the top prospects in the country, tallying 18 sacks and 79 tackles as a junior.
13. Bishop Gorman (Nev.) Gaels
Randall Cunningham Jr. leads a loaded squad that plays a national schedule that includes Mountain Ridge (Ariz.), Bergen Catholic (N.J.) and Booker T. Washington (Fla.).
14. Sandy Creek (Ga.) Patriots
The defending Class AAAA champions are ready to roll once again with offensive triplets Cole Garvin at QB, Eric Swinney at RB and DeMarre Kitt at WR.
15. St. Edward (Ohio) Eagles
A traditional Ohio powerhouse, St. Edward opens the year with a showdown against Cleveland Glenville in a game that will set the tone for the season.
16. Hoover (Ala.) Buccaneers
Marlon Humphrey leads the Bucs, who will face their former coach and "Two-A-Days" MTV reality show star Rush Propst — now the coach at Colquitt County (Ga.) — in the season opener.
17. Trinity (Texas) Trojans
Trinity's Polynesian pipeline continues to boast studs like offensive lineman Lemaefe Galea'i and linebacker Inoke Ngalo, both of whom are rising seniors.
18. Ensworth (Tenn.) Tigers
Nashville's top team doesn't rebuild, it reloads — with power back D'Andre Ferby taking over at running back for Miami (Fla.) signee Corn Elder.
19. Good Counsel (Md.) Falcons
An Aug. 30 road trip down to Immokalee (Fla.) will be a challenge for the Falcons, but it is the Sept. 27 game at in-state rival DeMatha that is circled on the calendar.
20. Gateway (Pa.) Gators
The Gators had a rough transition from former coach Terry Smith to Donnie Militzer, who could feel some heat if Gateway doesn't win big this season.
21. DeMatha (Md.) Stags
Penn State commit running back Mark Allen will run behind 6'8", 320-pound behemoth lineman Brock Ruble in the Stags run-heavy offense.
22. Cass Tech (Mich.) Technicians
Junior quarterback Jayru Campbell has led the program to consecutive state championships and has offers from Alabama, Notre Dame and Michigan State.
23. St. Joseph (N.J.) Green Knights
With nearly every key player returning for the Green Knights, anything less than another state title will be a disappointment in Montvale.
24. Gainesville (Ga.) Red Elephants
Quarterback Deshaun Watson already owns state records for passing yards (9,360), combined rushing and passing TDs (155) and TD passes (108).
25. DeSoto (Texas) Eagles
What Desmon White lacks in size (5'5", 150), he makes up for in big-play ability for DeSoto — the alma mater of Broncos pass rusher Von Miller.
Order your copy of Athlon Sports High School Football Preview today!
One of the great things about high school football is that many coaches stay at their schools for decades, rather than job-hopping across the land, as their college counterparts do. When they experience success, they don’t look for a higher-paying gig. Rather, they remain in place and build regional dynasties that sometimes make national news.
These 10 men have led schools to state — and in some cases national — titles, stocked collegiate rosters with talent and established winning cultures that sometimes span generations. Each comes from different circumstances, but it’s no surprise that they share some similarities, too.
Bob Beatty, Trinity (Louisville, Ky.)
Coach, Not Friend
In late May, a Trinity (Ky.) High School player approached head coach Bob Beatty and said, “I can’t wait for practice to start.” Beatty was a little surprised by the remark.
“You’re ready for me to scream and yell and cuss and spit?” he asked. “Sure,” the player said. “You’re not my friend. You’re my coach.”
Beatty had to smile, because that’s the way he approaches his players. “I don’t have 17-year-old friends,” he says. But he has 17-year-old champions. During his 13 years at Trinity, he has compiled a 165–21 record and captured 10 state titles. His 2011 team finished 14–0, ranked first in the nation and outscored opponents 697–116. The Shamrocks train, practice and play 11 months of the year, and little if any of it is fun.
Except the winning, of course.
“If you’re going to be in this program, you’re going to punch the clock,” Beatty says.
Beatty spent 13 years (10 as a coordinator, three as head coach) at Blue Springs High School in Missouri. While there, he envied the success and atmosphere at Rockhurst High in Kansas City. In 1999, a friend of his asked what job he would like. Beatty answered, “Rockhurst.” That wasn’t available, but the friend knew of one that was and that was similar to the Rockhurst experience. That was Trinity.
Beatty turned it down.
“At the time, my daughter was going to be a senior at Blue Springs, and I wasn’t sure where my wife would work,” Beatty says.
A year later, the job came open again, and Beatty took it. Since then, the Shamrocks have been nearly invincible. It’s no secret why. At one point, Beatty visited then-University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, and Petrino told his staff, “Let me introduce you to the only guy whose team works harder than ours.”
That is true. When workouts start in late May, Beatty tells his team: “You had better pray hard, because you belong to me now.” The Shamrocks aren’t on the field forever, but the time they spend is intense and productive. “We try to get more done in two hours than other teams do in two weeks,” Beatty says. There are no superfluous meetings. It’s all about efficiency and winning.
“If I have one more (point) than the opposition, then I’m going to have a better weekend than they will,” Beatty says.
And he has had a lot of good weekends.
Al Fracassa, Brother Rice (Birmingham, Mich.)
What A Run
When Al Fracassa was playing quarterback at Michigan State back in the 1950s, his position coach encouraged him to sit in the front row for every meeting, the better to learn as much as possible. Decades later, those lessons still resonate with Fracassa, who enters his 45th and final season as head coach of Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, Mich. “I learned about every position while in college,” Fracassa says.
At State, Fracassa was part of the 1952 national title team and the ’54 outfit that reached the Rose Bowl. At Brother Rice, he has won eight state titles and compiled 372 career wins. (He won 44 at Shrine High in nearby Royal Oak.) The Warriors have captured two straight state titles and are a perennial power in the suburban Detroit Catholic League. Fracassa, 80, continues to enjoy the job and the players.
“It’s like anything else — if you love something, you’re probably going to stay with it,” Fracassa says. “Ever since I was a little kid, I had dreams of playing high school and college football. I got a lot out of it.”
Fracassa also wanted to play in the NFL, but that didn’t happen. So, he went into coaching. He started at Brother Rice in 1969 and still fondly recalls the top teams during his run. The ’74 outfit had 10 players receive Division I scholarships. The last two haven’t been too bad, either, as the Warriors have taken the Class 2 titles.
Unlike some older coaches, who defer to their assistants, Fracassa remains closely involved in everything regarding the program. He’s the one who opens the gym at 6 a.m. for four weeks during the winter to run agility drills for his players. Those who participate in each of the 12 sessions receive a two-ounce chocolate bunny, which Fracassa wraps carefully in black-and-orange ribbons (the school’s colors). Thirty Warriors earned their rewards this season from a man who remains engaged in their worlds.
“If a kid loves sports, it’s easy to communicate with him,” says Fracassa, who until recently taught world history and physical education at Brother Rice. “I’ve been fortunate that the kids here love this as much as I do. It makes it easy to coach and teach when kids love it.”
No one loves it more than Al Fracassa. Fifty-seven years on the sideline proves that.
Mat Taylor, Skyline (Sammamish, Wash.)
The Smart Wife
When Steve Gervais announced that he would be stepping down as head football coach at Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., Mat Taylor didn’t want to take over. Let’s face it: No one wants to be the man who follows The Man. And after 31 years as head coach at Skyline and other schools throughout Washington, Gervais was The Man.
The players wanted Taylor to do it. The community wanted him. Gervais wanted him. But Taylor turned down the job. “I didn’t set out to be head coach,” he says. The entreaties continued, as did Taylor’s refusals. Until he received a request he couldn’t resist.
“My wife said, ‘You have to do this,’” Taylor says. “So, I applied for the job and got it.”
Since taking over in 2008, Taylor has led Skyline to four state titles and a runner-up finish. The school, which sits 15 miles east of Seattle, opened in 1997, and Taylor joined the staff two years later. “I would have gone to Skyline, if it had been open when I was in high school,” Taylor says. The school has played in the large-school (Skyline has an enrollment of about 2,000) state final every year since 2004, except for the ’06 season. Taylor’s contribution to the run has been a 63–7 record in five years and a pair of back-to-back title campaigns, 2008-09 and 2011-12.
“The biggest thing for the program is that it’s all about Skyline and us,” Taylor says. “Within that simple statement are discipline, unity and protecting the school’s tradition.”
The last two Skyline teams have been piloted by quarterback Max Browne, who graduated early to enroll at USC and take part in the Trojans’ 2013 spring practice. Because of Browne’s pocket prowess, Skyline was a passing team the past couple seasons. But Taylor is not wedded to one system and will adapt his schemes to Skyline personnel. “You cannot be so proud as to say, ‘This is how we do it,’” he says.
Taylor is a full-time special education teacher at Skyline, which requires substantial energy. But he always has enough steam left for the practice field, and that’s a good thing. When you win four state titles in five years, people tend to expect excellence.
“When the bar has been set so high, and the expectations of winning big are there, that gets the juices flowing,” he says. “This is what I do, and it’s the only thing I know.”
Steve Specht, St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio)
The Three Responsibilities
By the time St. Xavier (Ohio) players reach their senior year, they could probably recite Steve Specht’s pregame speech if awakened from the soundest of slumbers. He may vary the approach a little, based on opponent or the importance of the game, but his overriding message is the same.
“During my pregame speech, I talk about the players’ three responsibilities,” Specht says. “No. 1, love one another. No. 2, be the best you can be. No. 3, lean on each other when times get tough.”
The refrain is the same, and so are the results. St. X has compiled an 80–24 record and a pair of state titles under Specht, who became head coach in 2003.
In 2012, Specht was named the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year and received $25,000, $15,000 of which went back into the football program.
Playing in the highly competitive Greater Catholic League, the Cincinnati school draws players from all over the area, thanks to its independent status. But each member of the program understands the mandate to keep improving and that winning big is the only answer on the field.
“I tell the kids the trouble with success is that people want more,” Specht says.
Specht is one of those people. He tells of standing on the podium after one of St. Xavier’s state championships and thinking, “What’s next?” The achievement was great. The joy it brought the school was substantial. But…
“I was excited for the kids and the staff and the community, but I felt there was more,” Specht says.
While that approach fuels Specht’s daily commitment to the game, he is not necessarily looking for anything all that dramatically different when it comes to his team's style of play. St. Xavier will play good defense, run the football and be sound in special teams. “It’s not the most attractive approach, but it works for us,” Specht says.
Specht is a 1986 St. Xavier graduate, so coaching and administrating (he was an English teacher for 13 years before moving up) at his alma mater mean a lot to him. He tries to impart that importance to his players every day.
“It means the world to me to be at this institution, which had a tremendous impact on my life as a young man,” Specht says. “The opportunity to come back and do what my coaches and teachers did for me is all I ever wanted to do.”
Joe Kinnan, Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.)
When Joe Kinnan tells his Manatee (Fla.) High School players that they had better do right, show up for practice and be on time, he isn’t bluffing. And anybody who wants to challenge someone who beat three different types of cancer is probably looking at a big loss.
Kinnan has won five state titles during his tenure at Manatee, which began in 1981 and has included a three-year detour after his first bout with cancer. His three rules for players haven’t changed during that time — Do right, be on time, don’t miss practice — but he has been certain to show flexibility on both sides of the ball.
“My coaching philosophy hasn’t changed, but nobody’s football philosophy can be stagnant,” Kinnan says. “At first, we were a trap option team with two wide receivers. Now, we’re pretty much in the gun, with a lot of option concepts. We started on defense in a 4-3 base. Then, we went to a 3-4. Now, we’re a 4-2-5.”
When Kinnan was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, he spent three years fighting that and running a series of charter schools for kids who had been incarcerated. But he missed the camaraderie with players and coaches and came back, only to be waylaid again in 2010, this time by renal cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Kinnan beat those and has continued to direct Manatee, using concepts he learned as a player at Florida State and an assistant at Arkansas, Southern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky.
He coordinates the offense but doesn’t coach a position, choosing instead to be a “big-picture guy.” To him, it’s vital for players to be at practice and be prepared, a lesson he learned from talking to coaches all over the country throughout his career.
“I don’t want to hear excuses,” he says.
After all Kinnan’s been through, he’s still standing. So, it would be kind of silly for a player to beg out of a workout because of a cold.
J.T. Curtis, John Curtis (River Ridge, La.)
If you’re looking to sit in on a staff meeting of the John Curtis (La.) team, you might want to try Sunday dinner. That’s where you might find J.T. Curtis, his brother, Leon, two sons, a son-in-law and three nephews enjoying a meal and perhaps discussing next week’s opponent.
“We have a cohesive staff, and that’s a huge key to success on any level,” Curtis says.
It makes perfect sense that at a school started by and named for his father, Curtis would stock his staff with family members. And though some who may want to gain a spot as a coach might balk at the staff makeup, no one could ever argue with Curtis’ success. During his 45 years at the school, Curtis has compiled a 520–54–6 record, with 25 state titles. The 520 victories are the second-most all-time for a high school coach.
His first team went 0–10, but there hasn’t been much trouble after that. Between 1979-82, the Patriots won 43 straight games. From 2004-08 they compiled a record-tying five consecutive state titles, and the 2012 squad was 14–0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today. Guess there’s something to that family stuff.
“The core of our staff understands what we’re trying to accomplish and has the same objectives and goals,” Curtis says.
Curtis’ father started the school in 1962, when his son was a high school sophomore. When the elder Curtis stepped down as principal, his son took over the position. You can just imagine the comments he gets when people hear his name and the school for which he works.
“They’ll say, ‘Coach, you must have done an unbelievable job there, because they named the school after you,’” Curtis says, laughing. “I’ve heard just about all of them.”
Not much has changed during Curtis’ time at the school. The Patriots still operate out of the split-back veer option, although the staff has made a few small adjustments. The defense is primarily a five-man front, but over the years, some four-man principles have crept into the equation. One thing that hasn’t changed is the discipline and work ethic demanded of the team.
Those basics are big reasons the 2012 edition was so successful. The talent was there, of course, but so were the tenets that have served Curtis and his staff for decades.
“The intangible ingredients are so important with any team,” he says. “We had good chemistry and a commitment level. The team was very skilled and had great team speed offensively and defensively. We did not give up many big plays defensively, and we had the capability offensively of making big plays. But the attitude and work ethic were important. We took care of the basics.”
Steve Lineweaver, Trinity (Texas)
If you’re looking for a reason why Trinity (Texas) High School is so successful, you’re going to have to look west of the school’s Dallas-area home. We’re not talking El Paso here. And even California isn’t far enough.
The secret comes from Tonga, the South Pacific archipelago, which is known for producing some seriously talented football players. Trinity assistant coach John Thompson estimates that “about 4,000” Polynesians can be found in the Hearst-Euless-Bedford school district, and a bunch of them play for the Tigers. Their presence helps Trinity play an “old-school type of football,” according to Thompson, and also brings notoriety to the team, thanks to the pre and post-game Haka dance the team does.
Head coach Steve Lineweaver came to Trinity in 2000 and has won three Class 5A (largest in Texas) state titles (2005, ’07, ‘09) while helping lift the Tigers to national prominence. For as much success as Lineweaver has experienced, he is almost aggressively anti-publicity, as his unwillingness to speak for this article demonstrates. But there is no denying his team’s accomplishments or its impact within the school and its surrounding areas.
“The Polynesian influence has led to a family atmosphere, and we try to take that into the community,” Thompson says. “(Steve) is big on interaction, and he tells the players not to be the kids who are problems in the classroom or the community.”
The Tigers are an I-formation offensive team and try to overpower opponents with their ground game. Thanks to its Tongan players, Trinity is often bigger than its rivals. The team’s 4-3 defense also aims to dominate at the point of attack.
“We try to run it down your throat,” Thompson says. “We take pride in trying to be the most physical team on the field. Our spring practices are bloodlettings.”
Trinity’s success has made it a favorite destination for Division I recruiters. One year, 10 seniors received Division I scholarships. But it’s not always that way. Thompson says an average of “five or six” players are offered each year but that the 2009 state title team didn’t have any players with Division I pedigrees. Though some measure programs by those metrics and by titles, Lineweaver and Trinity are happy to work one day and one game at a time.
That means the focus is entirely on national power Jenks (Okla.) High, the Tigers’ first 2013 opponent. Perennially strong Texas program DeSoto is next, and Bentonville, an annual bully in Arkansas, rounds out the formidable non-conference schedule. It’s the perfect way to start a season for a team with talent and tradition.
And some pretty impressive pregame and postgame performances.
Matt Logan, Centennial (Corona, Calif.)
If you are a Centennial (Calif.) High School football player, you had better be ready to move. Fast. Any team that tries to pile up more than 500 yards a game, like the Huskies do — and have done — can’t be standing around waiting for stuff to happen. It needs to be committed to speed.
“It all comes down to practice,” head coach Matt Logan says. “We do everything at a high tempo, even lifting. We try to get the players to understand the speed we play at.”
Last year, en route to a 14–2 record and the 2012 Southern Regional title, Centennial set a California state record with 8,573 yards in 16 games, breaking its own mark, set in 2010. During his 16 years at the school, Logan has a 173–39 record and won the ’08 state title. The Huskies have also won seven California Interscholastic Federation titles. And they have done it with a spread, no-huddle attack designed to put maximum pressure on opponents and pile up the yards. Think of a SoCal version of Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams, without the funky uniforms — although their all-black unis are pretty sharp.
Twenty-five years ago, there was one high school in Corona; now, there are four. Centennial was the first of the newcomers, and it has swelled to nearly 3,000 students. Logan estimates that about 250 players are part of the program and expects some pretty big things this season, since the Huskies return “quite a few players who have been offered Division I scholarships.”
The key to Centennial’s success, according to Logan, is the consistent level at which all players are expected to perform, in everything they do. Logan praises the commitment the school has made to football and athletics in general but adds that the Huskies reciprocate with plenty of effort and results.
“I think it’s just setting an expectation level,” he says. “It’s what’s expected of kids in the offseason and how we practice, spring, summer and fall.”
At maximum speed.
Bob Milloy, Good Counsel (Olney, Md.)
For 2013, Good Counsel (Md.) High School will have a quarterback who is not as well suited for the drop-back passing life as his predecessor was. Some coaches might ask the player to change. Bob Milloy looks at things the other way.
“Our new quarterback is a play-action guy and a runner, which is different than what we had the last two years,” Milloy says. “If a quarterback isn’t good at what you want to do, you have to adjust to him.”
One would expect a novice coach to have that kind of approach, but what about someone who has been a head coach for 42 years? No way. Those guys are supposed to be so set in their ways that they couldn’t possibly change. But you don’t win four straight conference titles and succeed at four different high schools by being stubborn.
Now, Milloy isn’t going to reinvent his offense every season. The basic tenets still apply. Good Counsel is going to run the Wing-T and make liberal use of its backs. That’s why his teams have boasted at least one 1,000-yard rusher every season since 1983.
“We play 13 games, so that’s not hard to do,” Milloy says, modestly. Right, coach. In the NFL, it’s still a big deal, and they play 16 times over there.
Good Counsel loves to run it off tackle, and everybody knows that. So, teams load up to stop that, and what does Milloy do? He adjusts.
“We have six core plays, and we try to run them out of motion and shifts and one-back sets and two-back sets,” he says. “We stick to our core as much as we can.”
Milloy will turn 70 in September, and many would consider that a good time to hang up the whistle. But that’s not what he wants. When he picked up the phone in May, he was in the middle of looking at what red-zone defense his team should be playing during the upcoming seven-on-seven league season.
“If I were to give up coaching, I don’t know what I’d do,” he says.
So, Milloy sticks around Good Counsel, a private, Catholic school with 1,250 students that doesn’t compete in the state playoffs. But the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference isn’t easy. In fact, Good Counsel met DeMatha for the league title five consecutive seasons and lost all five. But the Falcons survived that stretch to take the next four championships.
Why would Milloy ever want to leave that, especially when he isn’t ready to stop adapting?
Greg Toal, Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
The Iron Man
Greg Toal has always been a fighter, from his days as an amateur boxer, when he was never afraid to climb into the ring with guys bigger, stronger and more experienced than he was, to his time as coach at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J.
Toal had never intended to coach a game at Don Bosco, a team that had struggled mightily when he got the call to consider the job in 1999. He had committed to direct the team at Clifton High School, after leading Saddle Brook and Hackensack to state titles. Don Bosco? The Ironmen were playing on a field that appeared more like a sandlot than a gridiron and had lost 17 straight games to their main rival, St. Joseph of Metuchen.
Somehow, then-president Rev. John Talamo convinced Toal to accept the challenge. That’s really all he had to do — challenge Toal. From there, the coach’s natural competitiveness and unbreakable will took over. Don Bosco wouldn’t just beat St. Joseph — it would become a national power, finishing No. 1 in America in 2009 and winning eight New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 titles from 2002-11, including six straight from ’06-11.
“At that point, Don Bosco was at the bottom of the list,” Toal says. “There were a lot of challenges, because they hadn’t been very successful. But you only live once. You go for it. What’s the worst thing that happens? You lose.”
The Ironmen didn’t lose, because they replicated the intensity of their coach. No matter what he has done or coached throughout his nearly four decades on the sidelines, Toal has done it with a single-minded fervor. His pregame speeches are so filled with emotion and passion that former players often crowd the locker room to experience the moment, and on one occasion, a player hyperventilated after becoming so excited by Toal’s oratory.
“I remind them that they are representing their parents and their families and not to forget those things,” Toal says. “Passion is still part of the game.”
A private school that culls its student body from several different towns and socioeconomic classifications in North Jersey, Don Bosco is the perfect spot for Toal and his everyman approach to football and life. The Salesian fathers preach academic rigor and work to create an atmosphere that “empowers young men for life.” Toal does the same thing with his unflinching approach to physical football that has produced winners and compelled players to flock to his orbit, despite the hard-nosed climate of the program.
Toal understands that discipline is necessary for young men to grow as people and athletes. When he was at Hackensack High, he molded a roster of oft-troubled youths into a unit that won state titles from 1992-96. Many of the students at Don Bosco are not at risk — although some come from difficult backgrounds — but they require a similar firm hand. Toal may not need to employ the same straight rights he used in the ring, but his straightforward approach to football and life have served him and his players well.
“Toughness is a learned skill,” Toal says. “It’s not something you’re born with. It’s something that can be developed. It’s a mentality.
“Practice has to be harder than the games. When we’re in tough spots, like Alabama, when it’s 100 degrees, or Manatee, Florida, when it’s hot in the fourth quarter, you better be in good shape. Hopefully, you can break them before they break you.”
By Michael Bradley
In most cases, changes to the uniform or helmet are a big hit with the players. But that wasn’t the case with BYU this week.
Instead of leaving the last names on the jerseys, three words – tradition, spirit and honor – were set to become what the Cougars wore on the back this season.
The changes drew some complaints from players:
BYU's Eathyn Manumaleuna said fellow Polynesians on team are taking it hard. "We are proud of our last names, ask any one of us."— Jay Drew (@drewjay) August 8, 2013
So later on Thursday night, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall tweeted this:
Talked to my team tonite. They want to wear tradition spirit honor on jerseys for homecoming only. Last names for rest of the year. PERFECT!— Coach Mendenhall (@BYU_Football) August 9, 2013
In the scope of college football and the 2013 season, this is a very minor deal for BYU. However, it's pretty clear the players and the BYU fans would much rather see the player's names on the back of the jersey, rather than a couple of words.
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2013, Athlon asked coaches around the nation to talk anonymously about BYU.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
Coaches Anonymously Scout BYU for 2013
Opposing coaches size up the Cougars:
“The first thing that comes to mind is they have a great receiver (Cody Hoffman)." …
"But now, with (new coordinator) Robert Anae running the offense, you look at what he's done in the past as a coordinator — his running backs have set records. To me, the identity of the coordinator is the main thing. I think they're going to go back to what they're good at, and that's running the ball." …
"They have a quarterback that’s a threat in the run game as well as the pass game. I think Taysom Hill does some great things." …
"There's a reason they had one of the top defenses in the country last year. Their structure and scheme is as good as anybody you'll play. They don’t allow a ton of big plays and it’s hard to get the ball over the top of them." …
"You try to use your speed and get an isolation down the field on the perimeter, because it’s tough to pound the ball on them. They just have a really solid scheme.”
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The Dallas Cowboys have missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and have posted a 22-26 record during this span. Owner Jerry Jones has already said he doesn't "want to go 8-8" again, so the pressure is on head coach Jason Garrett to win in 2013.
Last season, the Cowboys were doomed by a combination of injuries, turnovers, an inconsistent running game and a defense that gave up the most yards in team history. The offseseason brought about both personnel and coaching staff changes, as 73-year-old Monte Kiffin was hired to replace Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. Kiffin is switching the Cowboys from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme, which means several players will be in new positions this season.
Jones signed quarterback Tony Romo to a six-year, $108 million contract extension, so this is his team. He has weapons in wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten, but Romo needs a little more help from the running game (31st in the NFL last season), while also cutting down on his own mistakes (19 INTs).
Can Garrett and Romo win enough games during the season to have a shot at making the playoffs? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Dallas Cowboys' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|1||New York Giants|
|2||at Kansas City|
|4||at San Diego|
|10||at New Orleans|
|12||at New York Giants|
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This will be the most scrutinized coaching staff in the NFL in 2013. Jason Garrett has had multiple chances to cap a year with a win and a playoffs berth. Yet, both times, the Cowboys came up short. The offensive line and secondary have been reworked over the last few seasons and appear to be improving finally. However, a shift to the 4-3 scheme on defense and a peculiar play-calling tension between Jerry Jones, Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan gives this team plenty of drama to contend with. Tony Romo is a vastly underrated quarterback who has been given little help along the way. So as long as Jones is meddling with his roster and coaching staff, this team won't compete for a Super Bowl. And will miss the playoffs once again in 2013.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
With the Cowboys missing out on the playoffs for the last three seasons, this is a make-or-break year for coach Jason Garrett. The Cowboys have the necessary pieces to win the NFC East, but also plenty of question marks. Quarterback Tony Romo needs to cut down on his mistakes, and he needs help from an offensive line that is still searching for help at guard this offseason. I’m skeptical about the hire of Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator, especially as Dallas is trying to transition back to the 4-3. The schedule isn’t too challenging, and with plenty of question marks surrounding the Eagles, Giants and Redskins, the Cowboys will have a shot at the wild card if they don’t win the division. I think Dallas is in the mix for the wild card, but if the defense struggles to transition to the 4-3, the Cowboys will slip back to 8-8 and Garrett will be on his way out.
Pretty much everyone that wears a blue star on their helmet is on the hot seat this season, although the warmest seat by far belongs to Jason Garrett. He needs to lead his team to no worse than a 9-7 mark, and even then I'm not sure that will be enough, especially if it means the Cowboys miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Dallas wasn't a horrible team last season, the Cowboys just made too many self-inflicted mistakes on offense and gave up entirely too many yards on defense. Both of these areas can be "fixed," but the defense's job will be a lot harder with the shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3. The schedule's manageable, but drawing Denver, Green Bay and New Orleans places even more emphasis on the division. I think the Cowboys are good enough to post a winning record, but given the landscape of the NFC, the only way 9-7 gets them in the playoffs is if they win the NFC East. The last time Dallas finished better than .500 in divisional play was 2009, which coincidentally also was the last time the Cowboys won the NFC East and went to the postseason.
Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN), New York Daily News
In critical year for both coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo, the Cowboys are in an interesting spot — too talented to completely collapse, but probably not talented enough to be anything but a fringe contender. A rough early schedule makes things even more perilous — especially considering the amount of offensive powerhouses their questionable defense will have to stop. In the division alone the Cowboy' defense will have its hands full. Romo alone is good enough to win plenty of games, but everyone knows how erratic he can be. That will keep Dallas around .500 and probably just outside the playoff chase.
Charean Williams (@NFLCharean), Fort Worth Star-Telegram
The Cowboys don’t look much different on paper than they did last season… or the previous season. Could it mean another 8-8 finish? The hope is in their division, the worst in the NFC. They need to sweep Philadelphia again, and sweep either Washington or the Giants — while splitting with the other — to go 5-1 in the division and get to nine victories and the playoffs. The schedule looks favorable for a strong start. It is the first time since 2007 that the Cowboys have kicked off a season at home, and, in fact, they began 2011 and 2012 with back-to-back road games. It should be noted, however, that they are 0-4 against the Giants at home since AT&T Stadium, formerly known as Cowboys Stadium, opened. It is the first time since 2009 that the Cowboys have finished at home. The last two years their playoff hopes came down to a road game at a division opponent, with losses at the Giants in 2011 and at the Redskins in 2012 keeping Dallas out of the postseason. This season, the Cowboys get Philadelphia at AT&T Stadium to close out the season. If it comes down to that game, with a playoff berth on the line, count the Cowboys in.
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 9.
• Kate Upton opened up to Elle Magazine on a variety of topics, like how her first SI swimsuit cover made her hate herself.
• Steve Spurrier: No shirt, no shoes, no problem, except for the golf tan.
• Don't you love it when a pro athlete who's also a jackass gets caught in a lie? Here are the 20 most aggressive, in-your-face liars in sports.
• Now for something completely different: Matt Kemp's touching relationship with a cancer patient.
• Kevin Durant wasn't content to humiliate a young camper by launching his shot into the stands. He also posted a video of it.
• "Idiocracy" was not quite a documentary, but it's getting closer all the time. Here's a look at what that visionary movie has already gotten right.
• Where the running game still matters: Ranking the SEC's running backs.
• The Manziel family has hired a lawyer with NCAA experience. Stuff just got real.
• Miguel Cabrera even falls down with style.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The new faces that will dominate the discussion in the preseason in the Pac-12 may be the new coaches in Los Angeles. In a quiet coaching carousel, UCLA’s Steve Alford and USC’s Andy Enfield were two of the biggest movers.
But they might not be the biggest movers among new faces in the Pac-12.
Arizona will build off a 27-win season and a Sweet 16 appearance with two of the best freshmen in the league and one of the Pac-12’s most important transfers. Indeed, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell could put Arizona into Final Four contention.
Elsewhere, Oregon will once again look to a frontcourt transfer to remain among the top programs in the league. Arizona State hopes a guard transfer will get the Sun Devils over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament. And Washington will against pin its hopes on a freshman point guard.
Our look at the transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury last season continues with the Pac-12. Earlier, we’ve profiled the new faces in the ACC, American, Big 12, Big East and Big Ten.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The Pac-12’s most valuable freshman is getting used to the “most valuable” title. He was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game and MVP of USA Basketball’s U19 gold-medal winning teams. Gordon will play small forward, but the 6-foot-8, 210-pound product of Archbishop Mitty in San Jose could also play power forward. Gordon was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the 247Composite rankings.
Mike Moser, Oregon
Transfer from UNLV
Before last season, hardcore college basketball fans knew Arsalan Kazemi was a good player stuck on a bad team at Rice. His transfer to Oregon gave him additional prominence and helped transform Oregon’s season. Moser is not nearly as anonymous. At UNLV, he was a preseason All-American before getting caught in a numbers crunch in the Rebels’ frontcourt. Moser isn’t replacing Kazemi as much as he’s replacing wing E.J. Singler's versatility in Eugune, a tall order unto itself. Moser averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds in 2011-12 before dipping to 7.1 points and 6.1 in 2012-13.
T.J. McConnell, Arizona
Transfer from Duquesne
Point guard was an issue last season for the Wildcats with neither Mark Lyons nor Nick Johnson being a natural fit for the position. That changes with McConnell. He was the Atlantic 10 rookie of the year in 2010-11 and averaged 4.9 assists and a 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio in two seasons with the Dukes before sitting out last season. McConnell also averaged better than 50 percent shooting from the field and 2.3 assists in two seasons.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
Hollis-Jefferson is another McDonald’s All-American in Arizona’s recruiting haul. Like Gordon, the 6-7 forward is a versatile defender whose offensive game is developing. Hollis-Jefferson is the brother of former Temple forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson.
Jermaine Marshall, Arizona State
Transfer from Penn State
Shooting guard Evan Gordon unexpectedly transferred to Indiana, but Arizona State may have upgraded in a de facto trade with the Big Ten. Marshall arrives from Penn State to team with potential All-American Jahii Carson in the ASU backcourt. Marshall’s a good fit. He averaged 15.3 points per game but struggled from 3-point range (33.9 percent on 174 attempts).
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
The Huskies’ have had issues at point guard for a few years, but Williams-Goss brings a good package of size (6-4), passing and leadership on the floor. He’ll lead the Huskies' three-guard lineup. Washington seems to do better when its recruits fly under the radar. We’ll see if the trend continues with the four-star Williams-Goss.
Anthony Brown, Stanford
Returning from injury
Brown needed hip surgery in late November and missed all but five games last season. The Cardinal returns all five starters, but Brown’s return to the lineup will still be valuable. The fourth-year junior wing averaged 8.4 points per game as a freshman and sophomore.
Jabari Bird, Cal
Bird steps in to replace the Bears’ leading scorer last season, Allen Crabbe. Cal returns guard Justin Cobbs, but Bird could become a prolific scorer right off the bat. The 6-6, 190-pound guard from Richmond, Calif., is one of the top prospects Cal has signed in recent seasons.
Richard Amardi, Oregon
Junior college transfer
Amardi adds to a remade Ducks frontcourt that loses Arsalan Kazemi, E.J. Singler, Tony Woods and Carlos Emory. The 6-9 forward who originally signed with Iowa State will give the Ducks added athleticism up front.
Other new faces to watch:
Wanaah Bail, UCLA
Transfer from Texas Tech
UCLA’s all-namer has a handful of hurdles to clear before contributing in the Bruins’ frontcourt. He had knee surgery in June that will keep him out for four months, and he’s still seeking a waiver to play immediately after transferring form Texas Tech (even though he never played for the Red Raiders).
Pe’Shon Howard, USC
Transfer from Maryland
Howard is still seeking clearance to play this season after transferring West to care for an ill grandmother. Howard could start at point guard, where he averaged 3.6 assists per game for the Terps.
Joseph Young, Oregon
Transfer from Houston
The guard averaged 18 points per game at Houston, but he’s awaiting word on immediate eligibility in Eugene.
Brandan Kearney, Arizona State
Transfer from Michigan State
The small forward is a key defender who won’t be eligible until the second semester.
Ricky Kreklow, Cal
Returning from injury
The Missouri transfer played only nine games last season before a foot injury. He was a potential starter for his energy and defense.
Angus Brandt, Oregon State
Returning from injury
Brandt missed most of last season with a torn ACL. Before his injury, the 6-10 center was averaging 11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in four games.
Danny Lawhorn, Washington State
Junior college transfer
Lawhorn led junior colleges in assists last season and should become the Cougars’ point guard.
Two-time major championship winning golfer Rory McIlroy has gotten grief about his tennis starlet girlfriend from just about everyone, including Gary Player and Johnny Miller. Whether or not the 24-year-old golf phenom from Northern Ireland has been distracted by his 23-year-old 5'10" blonde Danish bombshell isn't really anybody's business. But until McIlroy contends again or wins another major championship, Wozniacki will be considered bad luck — which is better than a case of the yips, I guess.
Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander and America’s “it” girl Kate Upton kept it coy regarding their official relationship status until recently splitting up. But dating the voluptuous bikini model did not help JV’s pitching in the playoffs last year. Then the AL’s reigning MVP and Cy Young winner, Verlander was rocked by the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the World Series, allowing five runs in four innings of a losing effort.
Clearly, every man alive would love to do the Dougie, or Cat Daddy, or just about any dance with the 20-year-old bombshell. But it would be hard to pay attention to your curve ball after attending to her curves. Ask Justin Verlander.
Back when she was Tony Romo’s cowgirl, Simpson became Enemy No. 1 of Cowboy Nation. From wearing a pink jersey to taking a pre-playoff vacation to Cabo, Simpson made all the wrong moves. She is the perfect blueprint of what not to do as well as the definitive bad luck WAG.
Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp hit .249 with 28 HRs, 89 RBIs and had 19 steals the year he dated Barbados babe Ri-Ri. After the break up, Kemp was an MVP runner-up who hit .324 with 39 HRs, 126 RBIs and had 40 steals. Rihanna had more hits than Kemp did while they were dating.
Both Reggie Bush and Miles Austin know the split stats with and without Ray J’s flick co-star and Kanye West’s current beautiful dark twisted fantasy. Kim K and her best asset end up putting football players on their backside.
After Lamar Odom married Khloe — who some have speculated to be O.J. Simpson’s illegitimate daughter — his life fell apart. He was traded from the L.A. Lakers to the Dallas Mavericks, berated publicly by Mark Cuban and had a bout with depression that bordered on mental breakdown. Other than that, though, things are great.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
The late TLC star went chasing waterfalls and ended up with a scrub she didn’t want. In less lyrical words, volatile wide receiver Andre Rison cheated on her, so she set fire to his Atlanta mansion — the lowlight of a combustible relationship between two of Hot-lanta’s craziest residents.
Pitcher Chuck Finley filed for a restraining order against the actress after being attacked — a fight that allegedly included her stomping his foot with her high heel, pressing the car accelerator to the floorboard during the in-car domestic dispute. It’s a baseball superstition to leave your wife if she beats you up before going on Celebrity Rehab.
Pitcher Kris Benson would have come and gone without anyone noticing him had it not been for his batwing crazy model wife. She was a dumpster fire with D-cups, telling Howard Stern that she would have sex with the entire Mets team if Kris ever cheated on her and generally sabotaging her husband’s middling career.
The Material Girl has an all-star roster of athletes she has vogued with. Jose Canseco, Dennis Rodman and Alex Rodriguez all got into the groove with Madge. Those dudes get worse reviews than Guy Ritchie’s 2002 Madonna vehicle Swept Away. Recently, Ozzie Guillen blamed the fall of A-Rod on Madonna. And judging by the beefed-up arms of the 54-year-old cultural icon, maybe A-Rod was sharing some of his alleged Biogenesis secrets with his ex-Kabbalah crush.
Back to A-Rod, whose nickname apparently isn’t just a reference to his name. Remember when the Bad Teacher fed him popcorn at Super Bowl XLV? Nothing has gone right for lucky No. 13 since then. He hit a rock bottom .120 (3-for-25) before getting benched in the AL playoffs last year. And things have only gone downhill since then.
Who? Oh yeah, the wacko from Basketball Wives who coincidentally left the lives of both Antoine Walker and Chad Ochocinco Johnson in shambles. You still probably don’t know who she is, but ‘Toine is penny-less and shimmy-less while Ocho is clearly no bueno, jobless and allegedly resorting to Twitter stalking.
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2013, Athlon asked coaches around the nation to talk anonymously about Notre Dame.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
Coaches Anonymously Scout Notre Dame for 2013
Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Irish:
“Brian (Kelly) utilizes his personnel well. He plays well to the strengths of the team, and he adapted.” …
“The quarterback’s ability (Everett Golson) to make plays was why they went with him over the (older) quarterbacks. The other guys didn’t have that same ability or creativity.” …
“The tight end (Tyler Eifert) was the hardest matchup on the field. Linebackers couldn’t control him, defensive backs weren’t big enough to handle him. They’ll miss him. The way they used him in wideout sets, flexing him, they did a good job formation-ing you and trying to get a matchup. That’s why I think (Kelly) stayed with so many big formations, because the wide receivers weren’t ready for an offense that threw it 40 times a game. They’ll throw it 25 times per game unless they really develop those skill players.” …
“They are really big up front defensively. Really good there. They make it difficult.”
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Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
The Pac-12 is filled with talent on both sides of the ball. But there's always room for another superstar or two from each team to emerge. USC receiver Nelson Agholor is off to a good start this fall and should fill the void left behind by Robert Woods. Three candidates are competing for time at California, but redshirt freshman Zach Kline should emerge as the team's top option.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2013 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.
Pac-12 Breakout Players for 2013
Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon
With running back Kenjon Barner out of eligibility, and quarterback Marcus Mariota returning for his sophomore season, the Ducks may look to pass more in 2013. Oregon has no shortage of options at receiver, including senior Josh Huff and tight end Colt Lyerla. But the player to watch is Addison, especially after he caught 22 passes for 243 yards and three scores as a true freshman last year. Addison will also factor into the mix on returns, giving Oregon another dynamic playmaker on special teams. With the Ducks taking to the air, Addison, Huff and Lyerla are all in for big seasons.
Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
There’s no question that USC will miss Robert Woods, but the Trojans still have one of the nation’s top receiving corps. Marqise Lee is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2013, and Agholor is poised to push for all-conference honors this year as well. As a true freshman last season, Agholor caught 19 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 17.9 yards per catch. The Tampa native had his best performance against Oregon, recording six catches for 162 yards and one score. With defenses aiming to stop Lee, look for Agholor to see more passes in his direction this year.
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Injuries have hindered Bigelow throughout his career, but if can stay healthy, the junior is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards in coach Sonny Dykes’ wide-open offense. On 44 attempts last year, Bigelow recorded 431 yards and three scores. He also averaged 23 yards per kickoff return and caught seven passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. Bigelow is a dynamic playmaker when he has the ball in his hands, so expect Dykes and coordinator Tony Franklin to get him at least 20 touches a game – provided he can avoid the pesky injury bug.
Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
In an offensive-minded league like the Pac-12, it’s not easy for any true freshman to step onto the field at cornerback. However, Carter did just that last year, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in the process. In 14 games (with eight starts), the Virginia native recorded 46 tackles and three forced fumbles. With another offseason under his belt, Carter should continue to develop into one of the Pac-12’s top cornerbacks this season.
Tyson Coleman, LB, Oregon
The linebacking corps is Oregon’s biggest concern on defense, as Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso will be missed. But the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Nick Aliotti. Coleman recorded 34 tackles in 13 contests last season and is poised to develop into the Ducks’ top linebacker in 2013. The sophomore suffered a foot injury in spring practice but is expected to be at full strength once the season begins. Coleman isn’t the only Oregon defender that could breakout, as sophomore lineman Arik Armstead is another player to watch this fall.
Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
Arizona State had three running backs record over 100 carries last season, but with Cameron Marshall expiring his eligibility, Grice is due for an increase in touches. In his first year after transferring in from a junior college, Grice rushed for 679 yards and 11 scores and caught 41 passes for 425 yards and eight touchdowns. The Texas native came on strong at the end of the year, gashing Arizona for 156 yards and three scores and Navy for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Although DJ Foster will see plenty of work, Grice should be Arizona State’s leading rusher and could push for All-Pac-12 recognition in 2013.
Jaxon Hood, DT, Arizona State
Will Sutton is one of college football’s premier defensive players, but the Sun Devils had another player turn some heads on the interior last season. Hood played in all 13 of Arizona State’s games as a true freshman, recording 26 tackles and three sacks. At 6-foot and 287 pounds, the Arizona native isn’t the biggest defensive tackle in the conference. However, his quickness off the ball is tough for opposing offensive linemen to match, and the sophomore will benefit from all of the attention Sutton will get from offenses.
Zach Kline, QB, California
It’s a new era in Berkeley in 2013. Jeff Tedford was fired after 11 seasons at California, and he was replaced by another offensive guru – Sonny Dykes. The Golden Bears struggled to get consistent quarterback play in recent years, but that should change under Dykes and coordinator Tony Franklin. Under their watch, Louisiana Tech led the nation with an average of 51.5 points a game last season. Can California replicate that total in 2013? Probably not. However, the Golden Bears should see improvement on offense, especially at the quarterback spot. Kline holds a slight edge over Jared Goff and Austin Hinder for the starting spot, and the winner of this battle will have a chance to post big numbers in this scheme. Kline ranked as the Pac-12’s No. 9 recruit by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, and while the California native may have a few ups and downs, expect the redshirt freshman to emerge as a strength by the end of 2013.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
No, Mannion certainly isn’t a mystery or unknown product to most around the Pac-12. However, after throwing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011, Mannion took a step back in the production department last year. Mannion threw for 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012 and struggled to hold off Cody Vaz for the top spot on the depth chart. Mannion has all of the talent necessary to keep Oregon State’s offense averaging over 300 yards through the air each week. But can he cut down on the interceptions and hold off Vaz this fall?
Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon
Replacing Kenjon Barner is likely to be a three-man task in Oregon’s backfield. Junior De’Anthony Thomas is a dynamic all-around threat but won’t handle 25-30 carries a week. True freshman Thomas Tyner will see plenty of time, but the Ducks’ workhorse could be Marshall. As a true freshman last season, he recorded 447 yards and four touchdowns. Marshall had one 100-yard effort in 2012, gashing Tennessee Tech for 125 yards on 13 attempts. Expect the California native to factor prominently into Oregon’s ground attack this year.
Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA
With the departure of Datone Jones and Owamagbe Odighizuwa sidelined by a hip injury for 2013, UCLA’s front seven will require some remodeling this offseason. Senior Cassius Marsh is a good place to start the rebuilding effort, but the Bruins would like to see a standout year from McCarthy. The California native ranked as the No. 17 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and recorded 10 tackles and one sack in nine appearances last year. McCarthy will help anchor the interior of the line, and his continued development is crucial to UCLA’s defensive success.
Terrence Miller/Garic Wharton, WR, Arizona
The Arizona offense suffered a huge setback when Austin Hill was lost for the season with a torn ACL in the spring. With the Wildcats missing one of their key offensive weapons from last season, there’s pressure on Miller and Wharton to fill the void as the go-to target. Miller has played in 34 games in his career but was granted an extra season after participating in just four contests in 2012. Miller has 55 receptions in his career and his 6-foot-4 frame will be valuable for the new quarterback, while Wharton’s speed off the edge will help Arizona stretch the field.
Darryl Monroe, LB, Washington State
Yes, that’s correct. A defensive player gets the nod for Washington State’s breakout candidate even though the Cougars have one of the league’s top offensive-minded coaches. Monroe suffered an Achilles injury in 2011 but rebounded with 80 tackles and three sacks last year. With an offseason to continue building strength in the weight room, Monroe figures to be even more prepared for the rigors of defending Pac-12 offenses. If the sophomore builds on a successful freshman campaign, he should be in the mix for all-conference honors.
Ryan Murphy, S, Oregon State
Jordan Poyer expired his eligibility at the end of last season, but Oregon State’s secondary is still in good shape. Senior Rashaad Reynolds is the headliner, and junior college transfer Steven Nelson will team with Sean Martin to form a solid duo at cornerback. And the safety position should be solid for coordinator Mark Banker, as Tyrequek Zimmerman and Murphy are back. Murphy finished third on the team last season with 67 stops and two picks. The Pac-12 has a solid group of safeties returning, but the junior from California should work his way into all-conference contention.
Jordan Payton, WR, UCLA
Quarterback Brett Hundley is poised to become one of the nation’s best signal callers in 2013, and the sophomore has no shortage of weapons to utilize in the passing attack. Senior Shaquelle Evans is one of the Pac-12’s top receivers, while coordinator Noel Mazzone is hoping for a big season from Payton and fellow sophomore Devin Fuller. Payton ranked as the No. 19 receiver in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports and caught 18 passes for 202 yards and one score. With tight end Joseph Fauria and running back Johnathan Franklin moving on, Payton is expected to see a larger role in the UCLA offense.
Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
With four starters returning, Stanford’s offensive line is expected to be one of the best in college football in 2013. But what’s even scarier for the opposition: This unit still has room to improve, especially at left tackle. There’s where Peat comes into play. As a freshman in 2012, the Arizona native didn’t make a start but played in 13 games. With David Yankey sliding back to guard, Peat is poised to step into the lineup and solidify Stanford’s left tackle position.
Jeremiah Poutasi, OT, Utah
The Utes have a tradition of developing players on both the offensive and defensive lines in recent years, and Poutasi could be Utah’s next standout in the trenches. The Las Vegas native had a standout freshman season, starting the final 10 games at right tackle. Poutasi earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors and is expected to be even better in 2013 with a chance to work in the weight room for a full season. Poutasi will slide from the right side to anchor the left tackle spot this year.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Richardson was well on his way to becoming one of the Pac-12’s top receivers prior to a knee injury suffered in spring practice last year. After sitting out last season, Richardson is due for a bounce-back campaign under new coach Mike MacIntyre. In 2011, Richardson caught 39 passes for 555 yards and five scores, including 11 receptions for 284 yards and two touchdowns against California. The Buffaloes need better quarterback play for Richardson’s numbers to significantly increase, but MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren should bright some improvement to the offense for 2013.
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
After a freshman year that saw him garner honorable mention All-Pac-12 accolades, it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice of No. 7 in Seattle. Thompson recorded 74 tackles, two sacks and three picks last season and ranked second on the team with 8.5 tackles for a loss. The 6-foot-2 linebacker’s speed and athleticism is crucial for Washington’s defense, especially when it comes to defending the spread offenses in the Pac-12. The Pac-12 already knows all about Thompson, but look for the sophomore to push for All-American honors this season.
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USC was one of college football’s biggest disappointments last season. The Trojans were picked as a top-five team in the preseason but finished 7-6 and closed out the year with three consecutive losses.
Although USC was a major disappointment, there’s still plenty of talent in Los Angeles, and coach Lane Kiffin could have the Trojans back into contention for a Pac-12 South title in 2013.
USC returns 15 starters, including All-American receiver Marqise Lee and standout defensive end Morgan Breslin. But the big question for Kiffin will be under center. Max Wittek and Cody Kessler finished spring practice in a dead heat for the starting job, with true freshman Max Browne just behind.
With no Oregon on the crossover schedule USC has a favorable path to the Pac-12 South title. But can the Trojans quickly erase the disappointment from last year?
What will USC's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
USC's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|8/29 at Hawaii|
|9/7 Washington State|
|9/14 Boston College|
|9/21 Utah State|
|9/28 at Arizona State|
|10/19 at Notre Dame|
|11/1 at Oregon State|
|11/9 at California|
|11/23 at Colorado|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though coach Lane Kiffin got the vote of confidence from athletic director Pat Haden, there’s still considerable pressure for USC to win eight games in 2013. The Trojans won’t have to play Oregon and host Arizona, Stanford and UCLA. Even though quarterback Matt Barkley will be missed, USC still has enough talent to win the Pac-12 South. The Trojans have a solid group of skill players returning on offense, and the defense should be better under the direction of new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Kiffin will have some time to find the right answers on offense before a huge South Division road game against Arizona State on Sept. 28. With plenty of talent returning, anything less than eight wins would be a major disappointment for USC.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Men of Troy will be one of the most fascinating teams to track in 2013. Lane Kiffin enters a critical year with an extremely talented starting 22 and loads of expectations. His defense should be much improved and there are tons of playmakers for whoever is under center. And the schedule is equally as intriguing. There is no Oregon or Washington to deal with from the North and the UCLA game will come at home to end the year. But road trips to key division rival Arizona State, Achilles Heel Oregon State and arch-rival Notre Dame gives this team a limited upside. Pull an upset at home over Stanford or on the road in Corvallis and USC could easily win the division. Lose a couple it's not supposed to and Kiffin could be out on the street.
This much is clear: it can't get much worse for USC, because if it does, Lane Kiffin will definitely be looking for a new job. If anything, the Trojans should be able to bounce back from a disastrous 2012 campaign because the expectations for the '13 team are much lower. There is still plenty of talent on this roster, but the uncertainty at quarterback and a new defensive coordinator and scheme can't be ignored either. USC should run into little trouble jumping out to a 4-0 start, but don't forget last year's team started 6-1 before losing five of its last six games. The Trojans catch a break on their Pac-12 slate by missing Oregon, but I still expect they will run into some trouble in conference, especially on the road. Still, five Pac-12 home dates and a fairly light non-conference slate (with the obvious exception of Notre Dame) should provide enough opportunities for USC to get to nine wins in the regular season. It's now up to Kiffin and his team to capitalize on them and show that last season was the exception and not the rule.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Barring disaster, USC should be off to a good start. The first four games are all winnable, and for a team with USC-talent, winnable by a significant margin. And other than Hawaii, they’d all be decent wins. But as USC learned last season, the grind of the season can take a toll on sanction-limited depth. That may catch up with USC, but the Trojans just might not be as good as Arizona State or Oregon State, much less Stanford or Notre Dame. The Trojans will have an unproven quarterback and a line that may be a question without center Khaled Holmes. I think the difference is going to be on defense. I like the pieces of Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams, Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard, but this is still the same group that was mediocre for most of that season. Was that a function of personnel or difficulty in leadership with Monte Kiffin? We’ll find out against Arizona State.
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When the 2012 season started, no one would have picked Eric Fisher as any kind of star. He played offensive tackle, and he did it for a team that went 3-9 the previous season.
But the Central Michigan lineman clearly was special as he ended up the top pick in the NFL draft after a 7-6 season with the Chippewas.
With 125 teams in college football, elite players are bound to fall through the cracks. They end up in mid-December bowl games, if they land in the postseason at all.
Here’s our list of the top players who won’t spend time in the top 25 or even the also receiving votes category. While not all these teams mentioned are truly awful, many of them may limp their way into a bowl if they make it that far. And even if none end up the No. 1 pick in the Draft, these players will be worth watching on Saturdays.
OTs Tiny Richardson and Ja’Wuan James and LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Tennessee only won one SEC game last season despite these three frontline players, plus departed quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. That says something about the situation Butch Jones inherits (and the Volunteers’ defense). The key number on Richardson, an Athlon first-team All-American, and James: Tennessee allowed the fewest sacks per game in the SEC last season, despite the most pass attempts per game. Johnson led the league with 138 tackles. These three could start for any contender in the conference.
C Travis Swanson and DE Chris Smith, Arkansas
Swanson will be a Rimington contender, but he plays on an untested offensive line. He’ll give Bret Bielema a rock for the power run game he’ll want to run at least. Meanwhile, Arkansas quietly has the makings of a solid defensive line with three starters returning, led by Smith. The senior had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss last season, including six sacks in the final five games last year.
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
The former No. 1 prospect is familiar to Missouri fans and recruitniks, but Green-Beckham didn’t look the part in 2012, especially early in the season. That said, he caught 14 passes for 242 yards with four touchdowns in November. His athleticism and 6-6, 220-pound frame still screams elite receiver. He should grow into that role this season, especially with more stability at quarterback and on the offensive line.
WR Paul Richardson, Colorado
On many other teams, this 6-1, 170-pound junior from Los Angeles would be a realistic Biletnikoff contender. But injuries and the mess of Colorado’s roster as overshadowed his career. Richardson returns after a knee injury kept him out of the 2012 season. He’s had few opportunities to match an 11-catch, 284-yard performance against Cal early in the 2011 season.
RB James Sims, Kansas
Sims was one the few — perhaps the only — positive developments for Kansas last season. As KU gave up on the passing game, Sims kept racking up yards. The senior tailback rushed for 1,013 yards in nine games, including six consecutive games over the 100-yard mark.
DLs Bud Dupree and Donte Rumph, Kentucky
The defensive line isn’t a bad place to build a team that can win SEC games. Trouble is, Kentucky may have little else. Dupree had 12.5 sacks shuffling from linebacker to end, but now moves to the line full time. Rumph is a big body at tackle at 6-5, 323. Together, they combined for 10.5 sacks. No other UK lineman had more than three.
LB James Morris, Iowa
Iowa has three standout linebackers — all seniors, all returning starters. Morris is the best of the bunch. Morris finished with 113 tackles last season, putting him on a long list of productive Hawkeyes linebackers.
WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland
Imagine what Diggs would do if he played for a good quarterback — or even one mediocre quarterback through the course of an entire season. Despite Maryland’s constant injury problems at quarterback, Diggs still caught 54 passes for 848 yards. And when he wasn’t the only threat in Maryland’s passing game, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, averaged 10.1 yards on punt returns and threw a touchdown pass.
CB Ricardo Allen, Purdue
Allen dealt with injuries last season, but when healthy, he’s one of the Big Ten’s best cover corners. Allen had six interceptions and three touchdowns in his first two seasons in 2010-11.
DT Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest
Whitlock was hampered by an ankle injury last season, but don’t forget how good he was as a freshman and a sophomore. Whitlock had 14 tackles for a loss in 2011 and 10.5 tackles for a loss in 2010.
RB Brendan Bigelow and WR Bryce Treggs, Cal
For whatever reason, Bigelow carried the ball only 44 times last season, despite averaging 9.8 yards per carry. The two seniors ahead of him are gone, and Sonny Dykes may be more apt to get one of his most explosive players the ball in creative ways. Treggs caught only 21 passes as a freshman, but he had better reasons to be buried in the game plan (Keenan Allen and subpar quarterback play).
DE Aaron Lynch, USF
Lynch was a rising star as a freshman at Notre Dame in 2011 when he led the Irish with 5.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hurries. He’ll restart his career with the Bulls, where he’ll be an All-AAC-caliber player on a solid front seven.
QB Brett Smith, Wyoming
Hopes are high Smith can help Wyoming turnaround a 4-8 record. He missed two games last season — losses to Cal Poly and Air Force, games decided by a combined three points. Smith had his ups and downs last season, but he still finished with 27 touchdowns to six interceptions. His 8.6 yards per pass attempt led the Mountain West.
QB Corey Robinson, Troy
Troy has fallen way behind other Sun Belt programs after winning at least a share of five consecutive league titles. Robinson still has a career completion rate of 63.8 percent as a three-year starter, topping the 3,000-yard mark each year.
K Cairo Santos, Tulane
How does a kicker on a 2-10 Tulane team win the Lou Groza Award? He makes 20 of 20 field goals, including two from 50-plus yards and 10 more from 40 or more yards.
Plenty of happenings from fall camps today.
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College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Thursday, August 8th
The latest on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel: Who is Nate Fitch?
Eddie Vanderdoes is happy to be at UCLA. And the Bruins may need Vanderdoes to play a lot, especially now that Owamagbe Odighizuwa is done for the year with a hip injury.
Two North Carolina defenders will miss the season due to an injury.
Georgia Tech safety Fred Holton has been dismissed from the team.
Ohio State is working to match the SEC's physical advantage on the defensive line.
TCU coach Gary Patterson disagrees with how Les Miles handled Jeremy Hill's suspension.
Which incoming freshmen could make an impact at LSU?
USF defensive end Ryne Giddins is poised for a big year.
Miami has added another transfer to its defensive line.
Penn State's rushing attack is expected to get a boost from Bill Belton. And here's a good breakdown of coach Bill O'Brien's comments on Penn State's media day.
Iowa State has quiet confidence in its rebuilt defensive line.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is frustrated with quarterback Bo Wallace.
Texas Tech is looking for the right pieces on the offensive line this fall.